Emirates Stadium, London
28 April, 15:00 GMT
Arsenal host newly crowned champions Manchester United in what is a crucial encounter for them in terms of their qualification for next season’s Champions League. On the other hand, the Red Devils will be out there to enjoy their first game as the champions of the 2012-13 season, and although they still have the record points tally in their sight, it won’t be a surprise to see the visitors below their best on Sunday.
The Gunners have hit top form during the last couple of months since their heroic performance in Munich. They are defending much better and are also potent in their attack which has helped them climb to 3rd place in the league table. Champions League qualification is the most they can achieve this season as another campaign has gone by without a trophy. The hosts will be extra motivated to defeat United as their former star Robin van Persie returns to the Emirates for the first time since his move at the beginning of the campaign.
United, on the other hand, are in dreamland as they clinched the league title on Monday night with 4 games to spare. Although, the Red Devils have not been at their attacking best in recent months, they have tightened their game in terms of defensive solidarity. While they were conceding for fun before Christmas, they have shipped in just 7 in the last 15 games which has been the foundation of their gritty wins during the latter part of the season. However, they might play a lot more freely in these last few games with no pressure on the players.
Team News & Tactics
Arsene Wenger does not have too many injury problems going into this game. Mikel Arteta has a slight injury but is expected to be fit for the game which is very good news for the Arsenal manager. Lucasz Fabianski will definitely miss the game meaning Szczesny will be in goal. However, the biggest problem for the Frenchman is the suspension of Olivier Giroud which leaves the manager in a dilemma of as to whom to use as the target man — ironically on the day Van Persie returns to the Emirates for the first time since making his switch to Old Trafford.
It will be a typical 4-2-3-1 formation for the home side with Arteta and Ramsey playing as the two holding midfielders. Ramsey has been brilliant in the position of late and it is no coincidence that the Welshman’s superb form is reflected in recent positive results for Arsenal. Wilshere, Rosicky and Cazorla are all vying for the playmaker’s role through the middle, but it is likely to go to the Englishman who played as a substitute against Fulham, which means Cazorla will be deployed on the left wing once again while Theo Walcott will be up against Evra on the right wing. Rosicky is expected to be on the bench.
Up front it will be Lucas Podolski who has his chance to impress as the lone striker. The German international has often found himself on the left wing for the team’s cause, but now he has a chance to impress the manager by playing well in his favourite position. While the hosts will miss the aerial presence of Giroud, Podolski will offer a different dimension to their attack through his pace and clever runs in behind the defenders.
At the back it will be the centre back partnership of Koscielny and Mertesacker who will be trying their best to stop Van Persie and Co. Bacary Sagna will be the right back, while Wenger has a choice to make between Gibbs and Monreal for the left-back position. However, the Englishman is likely to get the nod as his pace will be crucial for Arsenal in order to minimize United’s threat on the break.
Probable Starting Lineup(4-2-3-1): Szczesny (GK); Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs; Arteta, Ramsey; Walcott, Wilshere, Cazorla; Podolski
The Red Devils have a few injuries to deal with going into this game and the manager is unlikely to risk any player even with the slightest niggle for this irrelevant game in terms of the title race. Although the manager has stated that he will field his strongest possible XI, few changes can be expected from the wily old Scot as he will look to give some of his fringe players a taste of action in terms of getting them ready for the next season. Ashley Young and Paul Scholes are definitely out of this game while Jonny Evans and Michael Carrick may be rested as both played through pain against Aston Villa on Monday. The rest of the squad is fit and it will be interesting to see who gets a go at the Emirates on Sunday.
Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic are expected to return in the central defence as both of them were rested in the title clinching game on Monday night. Patrice Evra will continue as left back while Phil Jones and Rafael fight for the right-back slot. It will be also interesting to see whether the manager gives Anders Lindegaard a run out as he is just two games short of qualifying for a medal.
It will be interesting to see whether the manager sticks to his word and gives Michael Carrick a game despite his lack of full fitness. If Carrick does get a rest, Phil Jones will play the holding midfielders role with Tom Cleverley likely to play alongside him. Cleverley, who has not started a game for a while, was excellent in the reverse fixture earlier in the season and the manager might want to use his intelligence against the free-flowing Arsenal side. Antonio Valencia has also shown signs of returning to form and is expected to start in his familiar right wing position with Shinji Kagawa or Danny Welbeck playing on the other flank.
Up front it will be Van Persie who will be supported by Rooney playing in the false nine position. However, the manager might opt to give Van Persie a rest and save him from the wrath of the fans in what is in truth a meaningless game for the newly crowned champions. The record point haul is surely in sight but the manager has always looked at the bigger picture rather than going for mathematical records.
Probable Starting Lineup(4-5-1): De Gea (GK); Rafael, Vidic, Ferdinand, Evra; Valencia, Carrick, Cleverley, Welbeck; Rooney; Van Persie
- The Gunners have the best defensive record in the league away from home but have conceded 21 goals in 17 games at the Emirates.
- Arsenal have won 9 of their last 12 games and lost just 1.
- Manchester United have played 77 league games since their last 0-0 draw.
- Robin van Persie has scored 17 goals in his last 17 games at the Emirates.
Player To Watch Out For
Robin Van Persie (Manchester United)
Who else but the former Arsenal captain on his return to the Emirates stadium? All eyes will be on the flying Dutchman as his every touch will be booed by the Arsenal faithful and it will be interesting to see how the lanky striker deals with the jeers coming from the fans who until last year loved him so much. The fact that Van Persie will be given a guard of honour also adds spice to the recipe.
Arsenal 2 – 1 Manchester United
Arsenal, in some way, should be happy the way the fixture list has turned out for them as one of the most difficult fixtures at the tail end of the campaign has turned out to be almost meaningless for their opponents. Also, Arsenal have hit a rich vein of form during the last couple of months and will be eager to show their mettle to the newly crowned champions. United, on the other hand, might take the foot of the pedal which could turn out to be fatal for this game.